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New Study Places Number of LGBT Americans Near 9 Million

A new study from The Williams Institute and researcher Gary Gates places the number of LGBT Americans near 9 million.

I've posted the study report , AFTER THE JUMP...

Gates From the institute's press release:

The Williams Institute, a leading think tank dedicated to the field of sexual orientation and gender identity-related law and public policy, released new research that estimates the size of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the United States. Drawing on information from four recent national and two state-level population-based surveys, the analyses suggest that there are more than 8 million adults in the US who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, comprising 3.5% of the adult population. There are also nearly 700,000 transgender individuals in the US. In total, the study suggests that approximately 9 million Americans - roughly the population of New Jersey - identify as LGBT.

Noted study author Dr. Gary J. Gates: “Last week, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies released an analysis of LGBT health research calling for federal statistical agencies to quickly move toward LGBT inclusion in their data collection. The surveys highlighted in this report demonstrate the usefulness of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large-scale national population-based surveys. Better data can provide the building blocks for critical information to understand the lives of the 9 million LGBT Americans who have been historically marginalized in both society and research.”

The Washington Post reports:

In a telephone interview, Gates said that only recently have researchers doing surveys on health and social characteristics started asking respondents for their sexual orientation. Gates has argued that people should be asked their sexual orientation on many surveys that have nothing to do with sexual behavior, such as those involving crime, for example. He says only then will it be possible to more accurately gauge the size of the gay community.

“The number matters,” he said. “An unfortunate part of our political system is that you don’t really count unless you’re counted. LGBT Americans still are not routinely counted. That allows legislators and policymakers to say they really don’t matter much, because if they did, we’d have this data.”

Williams Key findings from the research brief are as follows: 

  • An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  • This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey. 
  • Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay). 
  • Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals comprise more than half of the lesbian and bisexual population among women in eight of the nine surveys considered in the brief. Conversely, gay men comprise substantially more than half of gay and bisexual men in seven of the nine surveys.
  • Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sex sexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as LGB. An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.
  • Understanding the size of the LGBT population is a critical first step to informing a host of public policy and research topics. The surveys highlighted in this report demonstrate the viability of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large national population-based surveys. Adding these questions to more national, state, and local data sources is critical to developing research that enables a better understanding of the understudied LGBT community.

Advocates and opponents of legislation have already begun spinning the numbers, the WaPo adds:

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel) noted that the number was considerably smaller than estimates made by advocates of same-sex marriage. “Delegates in Maryland heard from their constituents,” he said. “That’s why same-sex marriage failed this year. Until there’s a wide acceptance of it across the state of Maryland, I don’t think those bills are going to be successful.”

Officials with Equality Maryland, which has lobbied hard for same-sex marriage to be legalized in the state, cited previous studies estimating that Maryland’s gay community has 178,000 people, including 15,000 couples. “Because folks are self-identified, the number is probably always a little lower than expected,” said Linsey Pecikonis, a spokeswoman for the group. “But I think having 9 million Americans be members of the LGBT community, that’s a fairly significant community.”

Would love to hear your comments on this study, particularly those of you with experience in this type of research.

I've posted the study report, AFTER THE JUMP...


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  1. This is honest considering a lot of people are still in the closet. I think there are a lot more bisexuals then either gay or lesbians, not everything is black and white but I wonder if many who think they are bi are in fact gay or lesbian?

    Posted by: Rowan | Apr 7, 2011 7:45:23 AM

  2. Does the study factor in the Anderson Coopers across the country?

    Posted by: TANK | Apr 7, 2011 7:49:07 AM

  3. Self identification by homosexuals is a fairly recent phenomenon, and as such, these studies should viewed with some skepticism. They also can be dangerous, as we are already seeing by the actions of enemies of the gay community.

    Posted by: frank | Apr 7, 2011 7:57:27 AM

  4. None of these studies will ever be accurate, because a large portion of people aren't honest about their sexuality, don't understand their feelings, why they have them and the extent of their attractions, and don't identify as gay or as having same-sex attraction although they actually do/are. LGBT is a self-identification. Sexual orientation and sexual identification are two different concepts.

    Posted by: Francis | Apr 7, 2011 8:01:45 AM

  5. Agree with Francis... how do you even get close to calculating what the REAL number is, considering societal & self-inflicted pressures on gay and lesbian people to stay closeted? It could easily be 20 to 30 percent more than the study shows...

    Posted by: johnny | Apr 7, 2011 8:28:13 AM

  6. take this survey, remove all statistics from people over age 35, and then its probably 90% more accurate.

    Posted by: mld | Apr 7, 2011 8:53:02 AM

  7. Francis is right. When much of society continues to condemn homosexuality as an abberration, there will be a great many who will resist self-identifying as gay. The stigma is much too powerful to lead to accurate statistics.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Apr 7, 2011 8:56:07 AM

  8. plus, its also silly, why not make a survey to count the number of straight people. who is assuming sexuality as straight unless said otherwise? it could easily be the opposite. if you want big numbers, count the straights first, then the remainder are lgb.

    Posted by: mld | Apr 7, 2011 8:56:59 AM

  9. SO MANY Bisexuals!? More than gays or lesbians? Honestly, I have been out for 25 years and in that time have met maybe 5 actual bisexuals. As my ten years old would say: Seriously?

    Posted by: Sean M Hingston | Apr 7, 2011 9:00:19 AM

  10. Agree with SEAN, Many gays Many gays describe themselves as bisexuals and even more describe themselves as "straight". So probably the 1.8 "bisexuals" are actualy gay and there are 1-2% of gays who don't came out in the interwiews.

    Posted by: calvin | Apr 7, 2011 9:12:39 AM

  11. If you believe a large portion, really most studies, done on human sexuality, most people are bisexual to some degree, and sexuality flows on a continuum. But even that has issues. What percentage of these bisexuals are really gay, and using the bi label as a transitional label? What percentage of heterosexuals who say they are 100% straight actually have been attracted to the same-sex, been turned on by another man/woman? I have a great friend who identifies as straight but we've had sex before, we've made out, don't want to kiss and tell, but, what would he identify as? Bisexual? Then, a lot of guys/gals would fit under the same definition. And of course you have those who are closeted.

    I understand the idea behind these studies but since sexuality isn't something you can just see, we will never truly know what every person on Earth is thinking and their true feelings.

    Posted by: Francis | Apr 7, 2011 9:13:29 AM

  12. This survey by Dr Gary Gates and The Williams Institute is pure crap. It's yet another failed attempt at determining how many of us there are out there. From my experience, men will rarely, if ever, identify as gay or bisexual over the phone to some stranger from a research institute. They simply won't do it.

    For one thing, there is far too much of a social stigma against male-male sexuality in the USA. This stigma prevents men from being honest about their sexual orientation. Many men won't even tell their closest friends let alone some PhD graduate with an inquisitive nose.

    Perhaps these researchers simply need to do what Kinsey did: get to know your subjects. Become their friends, meet with them on several occasions, get them to feel comfortable in your presence. Modern-day researchers fail to understand the importance of such acquaintance in getting men to open up about themselves.

    Posted by: brian | Apr 7, 2011 9:15:59 AM

  13. I would say that a repressed gay man is far more likely to identify as straight than bisexual. The "escape clause" for these repressed gay men isn't bisexual, it's straight.

    In any case, I reckon that, if there are about 150 million men in the USA, about 130 million are bisexually oriented to some degree. This covers anything from 1% same-sex oriented to 99% same-sex oriented within a bisexual framework. The vast majority of straight-identifying men are thus bisexually oriented.

    One of the things we keep forgetting is the role of women in opposing the concept of male-to-male sexuality. Women are hugely responsible for the opposition. Through the course of history, women have played a major role in enacting laws that opposed same-sex behavior between men but not same-sex behavior between women. Many countries had laws - and some still do - that opposed male homosexuality only, and not female homosexuality.

    Female opposition to the concept of the sexually fluid man is based on several fears including:

    a) her fear of having to compete with a man for the affections of a man.

    b) her fear of not finding a man to fertilize her.

    After all, if sex was purely recreational, as it is between men, it serves no purpose to her. Her purpose is to get pregnant, a man's purpose is to have fun. If the social stigma on sex between men was completely removed, men would turn to each other with relative ease, leaving women high and dry.

    Posted by: brian | Apr 7, 2011 9:33:31 AM

  14. I agree with many of the previous posters. I, for one, would NEVER reveal anything personal about myself, including my sexuality, to a stranger, especially one conducting an impersonal phone survey. As interesting as The Williams Institute's findings may be, I'm afraid they must be viewed skeptically for those reasons stated above. We may never know the true number of GLBTs in this country as long as so many groups, organizations, religious figures and politicians virulently stigmatize our sexual orientation through their hate-filled sermons, outright lies and/or misinformation campaigns.

    Posted by: Rob | Apr 7, 2011 9:33:49 AM

  15. "Through the course of history, women have played a major role in enacting laws that opposed same-sex behavior between men but not same-sex behavior between women. Many countries had laws - and some still do - that opposed male homosexuality only, and not female homosexuality"

    On what continent, BRIAN? Amazonia?

    And how many Gays are technically bisexual based on their sexual histories? A lot of them have certainly reproduced.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Apr 7, 2011 9:49:12 AM

  16. Derrick from Philly,

    In England during the 1800's and much of the 1900's, homosexuality between men was illegal but not if it was between women. It's there in the archival law books if you want to check it out.

    Singapore currently has a law that bans male homosexuality but not female homosexuality. You can check it out if you wish.

    Posted by: brian | Apr 7, 2011 9:53:25 AM

  17. Derrick from Philly,

    In answer to your second question, I would say that 50% of all gay-identifying men are bisexually oriented.

    Of straight-identifying men, I would say that about 90% of them are bisexually oriented.

    Keep in mind one very important point: the purpose of a procreating society is to oppress male-male sexual behavior. Male-male sexual behavior serves no purpose other than recreation, and diverts a man's attention away from the procreation-minded woman.

    Posted by: brian | Apr 7, 2011 9:57:57 AM

  18. "In England during the 1800's and much of the 1900's, homosexuality between men was illegal but not if it was between women. It's there in the archival law books if you want to check it out"

    Brian, what I did check out is women's right to vote on the planet Earth. It looks like New Zealand was the first in the 19th Century. Everybody else followed in the 20th century. How could women be responsible for laws against male homosexual behavior if they have no say so in laws that are enacted or decreed?

    And weren't most of those anti-male homosexual behavior laws/statutes jsutified by Old Testament crap? Well, who made up the stories in the Old Testament? Eve? Sappho?

    Come on, Brian. You obviously have done a lot of research on male homosexuality but don't let little shades of misogyny get in the way.

    The study is probably close to correct when it comes to Americans who are SELF-INDENTIIED as GAY. The other folks who indulge in homosexual behavior are whatever they call themselves. They are not part of a "Gay Voting Block" nor are they part of a "Gay Economic Spending Block." They just like sex.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Apr 7, 2011 10:24:54 AM

  19. What a bunch of crap.

    Most "gay" people, men in particular, are still in the closet. Of all ages. All you have to do is check out the various online hook up websites, craigslist, parks, the weird too-long looks you'll sometimes get from a man with a ring on his finger at the grocery store, etc.

    Comments above have touched on many of the factors why this is, and many of them are valid in various contexts. The essential fact that any out gay person realizes is that most of the gay people are still in the closet.

    Posted by: Ben | Apr 7, 2011 11:30:33 AM

  20. You can download the report from the Williams Institute web site (rather than use the dreadful Scripd version posted above). You will see that the author has not conducted a survey but has done what I think is called a meta-survey where he has combined data from 9 previous surveys that asked people to identify their sexual orientation. These varied in number of reported LGB people from 1.2% to 5.6%. The author then extrapolated the figures he cites.

    Five of the surveys are from the US and there is one each from Canada, UK, Norway, and Australia. I supposed if you wanted to evaluate the quality of the data you would have to look at how they gathered data in each of these. There are many, many factors that affect the data found in this type of survey, from what organization is doing it, the wording of the question, and even what the interviewer looks like.

    So this isn't really a valuable report. The most interesting thing I saw in it was the estimated of how many people are transgender. He come up with a figure of .3% or 700,000 adult Americans. I haven't seen any other estimates of this number. And I've looked.

    Posted by: Charlie | Apr 7, 2011 1:31:02 PM

  21. I think these numbers reflect minimums rather than maximums, but the number of transsexuals is probably lower than indicated based on my experiences at gay events. The term is also very loosely defined for many people. It might imply transvestism too to a lot of people.

    I also find few bi men at gay events, since many have chosen sides after early experimentation. Once you've chosen a side you really don't go back-and-forth as bisexuality implies. Particularly for men.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 7, 2011 1:32:41 PM

  22. Rather than comparing our numbers to the population of New Jersey, I would point out that the number of people who self-identified as GLB (they didn't count T's)in the last election was greater than the 10 states of NH, HI, RI, MT, DE, SD, ND, AK, VT and WY combined.

    Every number in this study is far below the real, honest-to-goodness numbers we would get if people felt free to be honest.

    I've lived in homophobic areas where I checked off "heterosexual" myself on anonymous surveys simply because the discrimination was too great for me to risk being honest.

    And I've had a number of friends who publicly identify as straight who have told me in confidence that they are lying to everyone and are really bisexual, and others who are straight but have experimented sexually with their own sex at some point. (But they added something like: "Please don't tell anybody; I only can tell you because you're gay."

    There's no way any of them are going to tell some anonymous telephone surveyer that they messed around with a college teammate one time or that they know they might be more sexually satisfied with someone of the same sex than with their own spouse.

    I would really be interested to see a survey broken down by age. How many 16 year-olds claim to be gay or bi? 23 year-olds? 85 year-olds?

    There would surely be an age which would be the "peak" (probably somewhere around middle age), since older people are still too spooked by earlier eras of bigotry to be honest, while at the same time a lot of younger gay people haven't yet developed enough confidence to come out.

    Of course, that peak number would still dwarf the true number of gay or bi people, so we could only cite it as a minimum.
    We'll never know our true numbers until the bigotry is all but eliminated, as it has been with, for example, left-handed people.

    Posted by: GregV | Apr 7, 2011 2:00:29 PM

  23. Sex and sexuality are a humans ultimate hot button issue. Most people [IMO] will and do lie when surveyed regarding their sexual orientation[s], desires, fetishes, etc., Therefore, I think trying to get an accurate count based on identified sexual orientation is simply impossible. But chew on this: Porn, including gay porn and bi porn, sells very, very well, and in fact are one of the main pillars of the internet

    Posted by: ratbastard | Apr 7, 2011 2:30:13 PM

  24. To those of you who are shocked by how many bisexuals this "study" counted, I'm not so quick to just toss that aside based on how many I know in real life. I'm much more likely to tell a perfect stranger I'm bisexual than someone I know because you can never predict the reaction. A negative reaction from a stranger is a lot easier to handle than a negative reaction from someone I know.

    And as a general rule, I almost never tell a gay man that I'm bi because that Reaction Face makes me want to throw something. I came out at 12. I've been living as a gay man ever since. So me being "bi" has nothing to do with a transition or trying to be something I'm not. It's just based on attraction.

    Posted by: RafiD'Angelo | Apr 7, 2011 2:38:28 PM

  25. I know gay men are not fully 10% of all men--that number has always seemed too high--but I don't buy 1.7% gay either.

    I don't hide being gay in real life--been with my partner for over a decade, both families know and accept, out in every way. But with strangers on the phone? That brings in the issue of trust (or lack thereof). Maybe I'm too suspicious, too concerned about getting spammed or scammed, or too jealous of my privacy. Whatever the reason, I suspect others may feel the same way and that could account for numbers that feel too low.

    Posted by: anonymal | Apr 7, 2011 3:17:31 PM

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